Belles, A Theater Review

Last night I saw the play Belles by Mark Dunn at the Community Theatre League. Mark Dunn is the Playwright-in-Residence at the Community Theatre League. This is a bit of a mystery to me since he does not appear to have any connection to the area or this theater. But I thought I should see at least one of his plays.

The stage set was very interesting with six areas marked off to represent six different locations. There was furniture in each area but no walls. This allowed for several distinct locations without requiring any set changes. Lighting was used to draw attention to different parts of the stage and actors would only appear in their part of the set as needed.

I was sitting in the front row on the same level as the stage so one of the actresses was right in front of me. It gave me the illusion of being in the play since I had the same perspective as a person in her personal space.

The play involves six sisters who never actually meet during the course of the play. All of their interaction occurs over the telephone. Ordinarily it would be a mistake to have the dramatic action occur through a telephone conversation. That is a rookie playwright mistake. But it works if both parties are actually present on stage. For some reason, all the phones were old cordless telephones instead of modern smartphones or cell phones. This may have been for historical accuracy or maybe it was specified in the script and can’t be changed.

Each sister had her own story and a part in a shared narrative. Although the play began as a comedy it did have its serious moments and even reached a tragic climax before returning to a comedic ending. I thought it was a well-written play and deserves to be better known than it appears to be. Unfortunately you can be a fairly successful and accomplished playwright without becoming rich or even enjoying modest literary fame. I think minor poets may enjoy greater literary fame than a minor playwright!

My own ambitions to become a playwright are going well. Getting my one act play Errant Souls produced at Shawnee Playhouse was a big step up. Now I have a full length play, The Shaman, ready to submit. I am reserving this play for a major competition since I am no longer interested in just getting a production anywhere. In other words, it is no longer necessary to simply establish my ability to get something done. Currently I am working on another full length play which represents another way to explore my major theme. I plan to have four plays on the same theme because it is difficult to decide upon the best approach. And I plan to expand Dawn Eclipsed, a play about how higher education prepares you for a world which does not exist and how you cannot live up to your full potential. Once all these plays are written I will concern myself with the problem of promoting myself. There is no reason to think about that until I have a body of work to promote. In the past, the negativity that pervades the playwriting community has discouraged me from even attempting to write anything. But now I see that I was putting the cart before the horse. You can’t become embittered about being neglected before you’ve even done the work! I have become more philosophical about the whole thing. The fact that playwriting won’t make you rich and famous means you should not get too upset if you aren’t any good at it.

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